Teens and Cellphones: A Guide for Teachers

(YD1917, Oct. 2019)

The widespread use of cell phones by teenagers raises the concern of the negative effects it could have on their performance in school. However, teachers can work with their students to incorporate effective cell phone use into the classroom. When used appropriately, cell phones can enhance class participation and allow students to access current information.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Meagan Scott, Ph.D. Assistant Professor/4-H Youth, Development Specialist
Other Authors

Vimbayi Chinopfukutwa, NDSU Extension Center for 4-H Youth, Development Graduate Assistant; Reviewed by:Karen Armstrong, Amelia Doll, Caroline Homan and Macine Lukach, Extension Agents; and Amy Tichy, Extension Parent Educator

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Publication Sections
Illustration of teens on cell phones

School Policies and Technology Use

Prior to using technology in the classroom, teachers must have a clear understanding of their school’s and/or district’s technology guidelines. If teachers plan to use technology in the classroom, they should provide alternatives for parents or students who choose to opt out due to privacy concerns. We recommend that teachers work with students to develop a clear set of rules for cellphones and other digital devices in the classroom.

Teenagers and Social Media

Most teenagers have reported that they have access to cellphones and they consistently are using social media platforms. In 2018, the Pew Research Center reported that teenagers used YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat the most (Figure 1). Teachers can use social media productively in a safe environment such as the classroom by providing opportunities for teenagers to practice social networking and written communication skills.

Figure 1. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens.
Photo Credit:
Anderson and Jiang, 2018
Figure 1. YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular online platforms among teens.

Remember, in compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the minimum age for youth to have social media accounts is 13.  (Federal Trade Commission, n.d.) 

Teenagers who use social media platforms report that they:

Teenagers who feel lonely and depressed were more likely to have experienced negative events such as cyberbullying or feeling excluded on social media platforms.
Photo Credit:
Knutson, 2018
Teenagers who feel lonely and depressed were more likely to have experienced negative events such as cyberbullying or feeling excluded on social media platforms.

In today’s world of technology, teachers can work with youth on incorporating effective and appropriate cellphone use into the classroom. Teachers need to be more involved and provide support for youth as they use cellphones not only for personal use, but also as learning tools in the classroom.

How Cellphones Positively Affect School Performance

  • Enhances class participation when students text their responses to poll questions
  • Helps students get up-to-date information online, which allows students to contribute during classroom discussion
  • Allows students to be organized when they receive notification reminders of assignment deadlines

(Harriman, 2017)

Teenagers like to use cellphones to communicate with each other and with their families. However, a concern is that cellphone communication may affect teenagers’ performance in school. Schools have not accepted cellphone use readily because some students may not pay attention in class, which can be detrimental to learning. Research also suggests that schools banning cellphones reported improved student test scores and that students gained an extra week of school during the course of the academic year (Beland & Murphy, 2016).

How Cellphones Negatively Affect School Performance

  • Increase the chances of cheating in class
  • Distract other students from learning
  • Increase teens’ use of poor spelling and use of shorthand writing styles on assignments because abbreviations are used when texting, ultimately leading to poor grades

(Blair, Fletcher, & Gaskin, 2015) 

Teachers said students used their cellphones to do the following in classrooms:

Student Cell Phone Usage in Classrooms Graph
Photo Credit:
Student Cell Phone Usage in Classrooms Graph

Managing Cellphone Use in the Classroom

Ways to incorporate cellphone use in the classroom to increase student engagement:

  • Create polls in class and quizzes via text messaging using Poll Everywhere or Kahoot.
  • Organize and hold study group sessions for students by creating groups on social media platforms such as Twiducate. Students also can get social networking experience in a monitored environment.
  • Create multiple-choice or open-ended questions for students using Socrative or Google Classroom.
  • Create video discussion platforms on different topics for students using Flipgrid.
  • Send reminders and updates for class using Remind.
  • Keep the classroom quiet during independent work by using Bouncy Balls, a free noise meter app that can help students self-regulate their behaviors and stay on task.
  • Students without cellphones can use the apps mentioned above on other digital devices such as tablets or computers.

(Common Sense Media, n.d.)

Illustration of Cell Phones

Social Emotional Learning

The social and emotional well-being of teenagers is important for their ability to learn in the classroom. Teachers can use cellphones to support students’ social and emotional learning. Social and emotional skills are essential because they help teenagers achieve positive goals and help them develop and maintain positive relationships.

Cellphones can be used to implement social and emotional learning in the following ways:

  • Integrate empathy life skills by using Pictello, a storytelling app to record videos of students sharing their experiences and beliefs on different topics
  • Build mindfulness in the classroom through tools such as Smiling Mind, an app helping students practice meditation
  • Organize teams in classrooms to make a positive impact on the community through tools focused on teamwork such as inspirED
  • Make use of social and emotional learning resources such as Character Lab, Ashoka, Edutopia and CASEL

(Wagner, 2018)


Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018). Teens, social media & technology 2018. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/05/31/teens-social-media-technology

Beland, L.P., & Murphy, R. (2016). Ill communication: Technology, distraction and student performance. Labour Economics, 41, 61-76.

Blair, B.L., Fletcher, A.C., & Gaskin, E.R. (2015). Cellphone decision making: Adolescents’ perceptions of how and why they make the choice to text or call. Youth & Society, 47, 395-411.

Common Sense Media. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.commonsensemedia.org

Federal Trade Commission. (n.d.). Children’s online privacy protection rule (“COPPA”). Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule

Harriman, D. (2017). Advantages of using cellphones in the classroom. SchoolMoney.org. Retrieved from http://www.schoolmoney.org/advantages-using-cell-phones-classroom

Knutson, J. (2018). What new research on teens and social media means for teachers: Understanding your students’ social media lives is essential. Common Sense Education. Retrieved from http://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/what-new-research-on-teens-and-social-media-means-for-teachers

Purcell, K., Buchanan, J., & Friedrich, L. (2013). Part III: Bringing technology into the classroom. Pew Research Center—How Teachers are Using Technology at Home and in Their Classrooms. Retrieved from https://www.pewinternet.org/2013/02/28/part-iii-bringing-technology-into-the-classroom

Wagner, D. (2018). We all teach SEL: Self-control activities and tools for students: Resources to promote self-control in every classroom every day. Common Sense Education. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/articles/we-all-teach-sel-self-control-activities-and-tools-for-students